Useless as a Broken Pot

Friday, October 25, 2013 — Week of Proper 24, Year One

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office:

Psalms 31 (morning) // 35 (evening)

Ezra 3:1-13

1 Corinthians 16:10-24

Matthew 12:22-32

I’ve had occasion to circulate my resume many times in the past five years. After graduating, getting ordained, moving, and piecing together work in a new town after taking time off with my son, I’ve recycled and repackaged my qualifications again and again. I know that many people have had a similar experience, especially in the past five years of economic readjustment.

The next time I apply for a position, I’d love to scrap my resume and cover letter and instead submit just one half-verse from this morning’s Psalm: “I am as useless as a broken pot.” Wouldn’t that stand out from the pile!

I might even recommend the full verse for people who have had a particularly difficult time in the present job market—workers who find themselves “overqualified” (read: too old) for current openings. Imagine a resume that said merely, “I am forgotten like a dead man, out of mind; I am as useless as a broken pot.”

In all seriousness, I’m beginning to accept that there might be no better starting point for ministry and service of all kinds than to embrace our uselessness. So much of our education and formation aggressively prepares us to be useful and valuable in the marketplace. We try to fill our buckets with skills, credentials, and experience.

A broken pot, on the other hand, can’t be filled with anything. It carries nothing and offers nothing, except itself. At least it probably gets plenty of rest! In its brokenness, it just may find its spirit surprisingly whole.

Henri Nouwen offers similar reflections on Christian leadership in his book “In the Name of Jesus.” He particularly emphasizes irrelevance and uselessness as essential qualities of ministry. He writes about the need to let go of “the self that can do things, show things, prove things, build things,” and “to stand in this world with nothing to offer but [our] own vulnerable self.”

On days when we feel like a broken vessel, we are probably the most open to experiencing God’s unconditional love. The psalmist himself shows this to be true. He opens his prayer by declaring his ultimate trust in God: “In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge; let me never be put to shame.” And he empties himself to the Lord with the faithful words, “Into your hands I commend my spirit.”

Today, let’s let go of some of our efforts to be useful. Instead, we can take some time to be as useless as a broken pot—the only vessel empty enough for God to fill. And, quite possibly, the very vessel that the world needs most.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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